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AN INTERPRETATION TOWARDS OF THEMUGHALEMPIRE1


By M. ATHAR ALI It is nowadays common "empires" that successively for Indian history textbooks to treat the various the stage of Indian history, with their occupied as so many successive repetitions with merely dif respective "administrations", ferent names for offices and institutions that in substance remained the same:

the King, the Ministers, the Provinces, the Governors, the Taxes, Land to the study of Indian grants, and so on. But D. D. Kosambi, in his Introduction history (Bombay, 1975), rightly observed that this repetitive succession cannot be assumed, and that each regime, when subjected to critical study, displays dis tinct elements that call for its analysis in the context of "relations of production" namely, (as he put it) existing at that time. Of all the "empires" previous to the British, we know most, of course, about the Mughal Empire. And this empire displays so many striking features that it should in fact attract an historical analyst of today as much as it did Bernier. In its large extent and long duration, it had only one precedent, and that in the Mauryan Empire, some 1,900 years earlier. Well might Havell2 regard it as the fulfilment of the political ambitions embodied in Indian polity for three to see in the Mughal Empire a millennia. And yet there is also a temptation existence belongs to a period when primitive version of the modern state. Its the dawn of modern technology had occurred in Europe ? and some of the rays of that dawn had also fallen on Asia. Can it then be said, as Barthold3 implied, ? the most brilliant that the foundations of the Mughal Empire lay in artillery as much as did those of the and dreadful representative of modern technology, modern of Europe? Can we say, further, that the Mughal absolute monarchies Empire, far from being the climax of traditional Indian political endeavour, of History towards experiments represented one of the several unsuccessful that titration which has at last given us the distinct modern civilization of our times? a questions are unlikely to be answered easily, or perhaps ever, with too are often too and or no. to be considered The factors numerous, simple yes remote, to be evaluated or assessed with any reasonable assurance of comprehen siveness and accuracy. But is there any student of the period who does not, in for one or the other setting for the his private thoughts, have a predilection as the most successful of the traditional it either i.e. for regarding Mughal Empire, These Indian States or as an abortive quasi-modern polity? to a My attempt here is to discuss certain matters which may be of interest con of Most outlined. on have I the theme which debate my briefly contingent clusions are naturally tentative; and I can hope for no more than that the aspects touched upon may be found to be deserving of close scrutiny.

TOWARDS AN INTERPRETATIONOF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE

39

A question that comes to mind as we are on the theme of a general character - or if not ization of the Mughal Empire is, what was new new, then, at any rate, exotic in the polity of the Mughal Empire? In the view of a number of historians, including Professor Rushbrook Williams4 and Professor R. P. Tripathi,5 the institutions and mutual relations of kingship tra and nobility in the Mughal Empire essentially derive from Turko-Mongol ditions, contrasted with the "Afghan". The former conferred on the emperor absolute powers over his nobles and subjects, whereas the latter, particularly in the circumstances of the 15th century, tended to place the king in no higher a than of the first among equals. This view has been criticized, first an analysis of the surviving Turkish and Mongol traditions (for both through were not only distinct, but historically different) in the Central Asia of Babur's time, it being shown that these by no means prescribed an absolute despotism.6 The other criticism is that it is possibly inaccurate to describe the Indo-Afghan or Lodi polity as a mere tribal confederation; for this would underestimate the con monarch that certain of the forms tribal underlying powers only barely position
cealed.7

There is still a third factor, to which, perhaps, sufficient attention has not been paid. This is the continuing survival of the framework of the administration of the Delhi Sultanate, established under the Khaljls and Tughlaqs, especially the land-revenue system. Abu 1-FazTs statement that Sher Shah sought to copy the administrative measures of 'Ala' al-Din Khaljl which he had read about in Baranf s Tdrikh-i Firoz-Shdhi would have been effective as a gibe had Sher Shah not proved himself a realist by his success in carrying out these measures. This success testified to the similarity, if not identity, of the administrative system of the early 16th century with that of the 14th. too of the Sur regime to the structure of Mughal polity The contribution needs to be borne inmind. Sher Shah and Islam Shah created the zabt system of
land-revenue assessment, the corner stone of Akbar's land-revenue administration.

They imposed the ddgh, or horse branding, an equally basic device for controlling the army. If 'Abbas SarwanI is to be believed, Sher Shah attempted a conscious centralized despotism; and Islam Shah certainly gave shape to it by bringing the whole of his empire under direct control (khdlisa), thus anticipating Akbar's measures of 1574. were acclaimed by the Afghan historians of the late 16th 17th centuries; but they also won wider recognition. There are guarded admissions in Abu 1-Fazl; and a paean of praise for Sher Shah is found in a letter written in 1611 by Mirza 'Aziz Koka, himself one of "the old wolves" of the Mughal state.8 What more could be required as a testimony of the popular admiration of Sher Shah, than that Dawar Bakhsh, a claimant to the Mughal throne in 1627, should assume for himself the very same title of Sher Shah?9 But, quite obviously, Mughal polity could not have been a simple continuation These achievements and

40

TOWARDS AN INTERPRETATIONOF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE

of the Sultanate and Sur polity. Had it been such, its comparatively greater suc cess would be impossible to explain. What, then, were the new elements of politi cal chemistry out of which Akbar compounded such a large, stable, long-lasting political structure? I would say that these were an extreme At the risk of over-simplification, a new of theoretical basis for sovereignty, and a administration, systematization balanced and stable composition of the ruling class. I venture to think that in spite of the work done on Akbar's administration, notably by Moreland, Saran, and Ibn Hasan, there has not been an adequate appreciation of Akbar's achievement in his systematization of administration. We see such systematization in his creation of mansab, classifying all individual officers definite categories. Whereas before Akbar each appointment, of pay, and obligation was in the case of higher officers a fixation promotion, hoc ad separate arrangement, under Akbar every such action was reduced to a in the mansab change (the number assigned to a man). Increase or diminution of a change in the mansab as amatter of course, under followed and pay obligation set regulations. Much research has gone towards discovering the "decimal system" of military organization under the Delhi Sultans and the Mongols. But mansab has really little kinship with any such system. It has been shown, I think quite
persuasively, that there was no mansab or number-rank in existence before

into

1574.10 Iwould add that no analogous system of numbered ranks can be found in any Central Asian or Middle Eastern state ? and certainly not in the Timurid, the Uzbek, the Safavid, and the Ottoman Empires. The mansab system was a unique and, as far as centralization went, an unrivalled device for organizing the
ruling class.

in the development of jdgir as the We get the same sense of systematization is pure form of land-revenue assignment. It possible to argue that the jdgir fits the definition of iqta' given in the Siydsatndma of Nizam al-Mulk TusI (12th century).11 But whereas in all earlier states the iqta' in practice always became with general administrative confounded charges, the jdgir in actual practice of jama'dami the standard definition of iqta'. The maintenance a to mansab of the and holder, jdgir assignment revenue) (estimated figures, sanc or his the on the the of basis talab, jama'dami equalling approved rigidly tioned pay, the constant transfers ofjdgirs, and the restricting of/fl^rGfars' powers exactly fitted
to revenue collection alone,12 are again measures for which precedents and paral

to find. into subas, sarkars, and mahalls and his the entire administrative structure of one other, with a chain of officers at various at the centre, gave identity to controlled by the ministers levels ultimately institutions administrative they irrespective of the regions where Mughal
functioned.

lels in the Islamic world are not easy Akbar's division of his empire largely successful attempts to make suba into the exact replica of the

TOWARDS AN INTERPRETATIONOF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE

41

continued under Akbar's successors. When new adminis The systematization trative categories were created, whether duaspa-sihaspa ranks under Jahanglr, or the month scale under Shah Jahan, they too appear, in the ultimate analysis, to substitute general categories for individual exceptions.13 Even in the sphere of land-revenue administration, where regional differences were inevitable, the zabt ? ? the characteristic institution of the system Mughal revenue administration was extended to the Deccan by Murshid Qui! Khan. Side by side with this immense work of centralization and systematization,
we see the exposition of a new stress on the absoluteness of sovereignty. The

accepted Mughal doctrine which could by no means tation of the blue blood as a ruling dynasty,going

of sovereignty was derived from several distinct sources be logically inter-related. It partly consisted of an exal of the Mughal dynasty. The long history of the Mughals back to Timur and Chengiz Khan, rulers not of obscure states but of World Empires, was an asset which the Mughals put to skilful use. Abu *l-Fazl's Albarndma offers a superb example of the propaganda carried on for the dynasty on the basis of its past. The Mughals accentuated the conscious ness of their exalted status by abstaining from marrying princesses of the dynasty to anyone except a member of the imperial family. On the other hand the privi lege of marrying a daughter to prince or emperor came to be zealously guarded by a few Iranian, Turanian, and Rajput families of high status. The historic halo around the dynasty justified the submission of the chiefs of the proudest clans
to its suzerainty.

A second element
chapter, Rawdi-i rozi,

derived
in the

from the earlier Muslim political


A *in-i akbari, Abu '1-Fazl repeats

thinkers.

In the

the well-known

theory of social contract to justify the sovereign's absolute claims over the indi vidual subject. The strength of this theory lies in its secular character and its foundation on alleged social needs. It has the further merit of being rational. But rationality was probably not deemed a sufficient incentive to the total obedience that the Mughal sovereign sought. A third element then entered; and that was religious. Ever since the Safavids had successfully utilized their past as religious leaders and based their sovereignty on their spiritual authority, the attractions of a similar position for sunni sovereigns were irresistable. The ultimately purchased from existing claimants the authority of the 'Abbasid caliphate; but they were anticipated by Akbar, who, through the mahzar of 1579, attempted to assume the position of an interpreter of Islamic Ottomans
law and, in spheres where the existing corpus was silent, of a legislator.14

For reasons into which we cannot go here, Akbar's attempt to establish such a position within the framework of Islam proved abortive.15 Moreover, it did not solve the problem of spiritual authority in relations with his non-Muslim subjects. It therefore gave way to a new attempt in which it was claimed that the emperor enjoyed the position of a spiritual guide and that this position derived not from is a ray of light any particular religion, but directly from God. "Sovereignty

42

TOWARDS AN INTERPRETATIONOF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE Sun", claims Abu '1-Fazl.16 As such men of all faiths were ben of the Divine Light. Thus Aurangzeb would write to Rana Raj Singh seeking the throne:

from the Divine eficiaries when "Because

the persons of the great kings are shadows of God, the attention of this elevated class (of kings), who are the pillars of the great court, is devoted to this, that men belonging to various communities and different religions should live in the vale of peace and pass their days in prosperity, and no one should interfere in the affairs of another. Any one of this sky-glorious group

(of kings) who resorted to intolerance, became the cause of dispute and con flict and of harm to the people at large, who are indeed a trust received from God: in reality (such a king) thereby endeavoured to devastate the prosperous creations of God and destroy the foundations of the God-created fabric, which is a habit deserving to be rejected and cast off. God willing, when the true cause (i.e. Aurangzeb's own cause) is successful, and the wishes of the sincerely loyal ones are fulfilled, the benefits of the revered practices and established regulations of my great ancestors, who are so much esteemed by the worshipful ones, will cast lustre on the four-cornered inhabited world."17 Akbar initiated the practice of jharoka darshan, a striking innovation which in accordance with Hindu tradition. To a more select circle styled the iradat-gazinan by Abu '1-Fazl, Akbar was the spiritual to include all their guide. Akbar's successors enlarged this circle practically nobles; and it became a convention for every high noble, whether Muslim or Hindu, to address the Emperor as Pir-6 murshid, and designate himself as his nevertheless of disciples, seemed
murid.

It can be seen that, combined with the tolerant religious policy of which Akbar was the author, the basing of political authority on spiritual sanctity was an intelligent device to strengthen the sovereign's position. Its logical implications lay, however, not in secularism, but in an as yet dormant and unelaborated con cept of religious equality. Abu 1-Fazl's claims for his master could only be justi fied by the theories of Dara Shukoh. The third important element which Akbar introduced into imperial polity the establishment of certain principles governing the was, as I have mentioned, the king and the nobles. That Akbar created a composite relations between nobility has been well recognized since the 17th century, when the author of the Dabistdn-i mazdhib, ascribed the prosperity of the Mughal dynasty to the fact that Akbar had succeeded in removing the dependence of the sovereign on the Muslim nobility alone.18 Though the attribution of the creation of a composite can be nobility to Akbar is now a part of the established historical dogma, it terms of in race, A much with composite nobility, accepted only qualification. in a and the under existed already composite nobility, Khaljls (1290-1320); terms of religion, under Muhammad Tughlaq.19 The latter sultan too linked his as a policy towards the nobility with innovations in his religious policy, such

TOWARDS AN INTERPRETATIONOF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE repressive attitude

43

towards the Muslim orthodoxy, public discourses with yogis in the holi festival.20 And yet and personal participation (Hindu mendicants), the effort to give stability to the political structure of the sultanate by this means
It may be that there are also autonomous causes for the greater success of

had not been successful. Akbar in creating a loyal nobility. For instance, the gradual progress of Islamic Persian court culture among the higher classes of non-Muslims, including the Rajputs, might have generated a common cultural groundwork for the political alliance between sections of Muslim and non-Muslim aristocracies. There is also another factor to consider. The rural aristocracy, descendants of the ruling class of the 12th century, had not only fresh memories in the 13th and 14th centuries of their past glories, but probably then objected to the imposition of the exotic fiscal system, whereby the bulk of the agricultural sur plus was claimed by the sultan as khardj (land-tax) to be distributed among his nobles, the muqti's or iqtd'-holders. By the 16th century, the khardj system could no longer be seen as an innovation, and the rural aristocracy, having been themselves reduced to the status of zaminddrs, must have largely accommodated to it.21 It was thus possible to introduce into the Mughal nobility certain zaminddr elements (e.g. the Rajput chiefs, Ghakkars, etc.) without endangering
its foundations.22

Both Akbar
given

these factors are easily admitted. But one significant contribution of that continued to be honoured by his four immediate successors must be
recognition. This was the enunciation of an essentially humane

due

approach to the individuals constituting the nobility. In this respect, the Mughal Empire stood apart from the Sultanate; and it also stood apart from the Safavid and other polities of the contemporary Islamic world. The official chronicler of Shah Jahan tells us: "In matters of punishments, His Majesty does not regard the nobles as differ ent from ordinary human beings. If perchance mention is made in His Maj Iran, and esty's presence of the cruelty of the Emperors of Constantinople, and of their in His Uzbeks, ferocity awarding punishments, Majesty gets so are that of the from sadness his illustrious forehead. perturbed apparent signs His Majesty has often been heard to say that God has given the kings authority and made all men their subjects for the sole purpose that the entire attention of kings be directed towards the maintenance of justice, which is the basis of the functioning of the world and the races of men. Therefore, the king should so award punishments that the cruel cannot oppress their victims, and (the nobles) may treat the poor mildly, and the garden of the world flourish owing to the removal of the thorns of cruelty. Not that in the name of awarding punishments the king should slaughter large numbers of men for a small fault, and on a small suspicion injure fellow beings, who are a trust from God."23 The boast for the Mughal Empire implicit in this passage was not an empty

44

TOWARDS AN INTERPRETATIONOF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE

one. The Mughal

emperors really shine by contrast with their despotic contem Tdrikh-i 'dlam dra-i 'Abbasi,24 I compiled a list of the leading the poraries. Taking the great Safavid emperor. I nobles executed by Shah 'Abbas I (1587-1629), found that during 31 years, he executed no less than 48 prominent officers of his, generally upon the slightest suspicions. Some of the executions were on religious grounds.25 When we turn from this gory record to the annals of the Mughal Empire, we find that even dismissals, let alone executions, are very rare. When high officers were dismissed for major faults, they were usually pensioned off with land grants. Confiscation of individual nobles' property, as punishment, was unknown. So also the humiliation of the family of a noble no longer in favour. It was only in the rare cases of rebellions or wars of succession that the nobles met violent ends. Even here an unwritten custom provided that only under exceptional circumstances were nobles of the defeated side to be executed after a battle. In an overwhelmingly large number of cases, nobles who escaped death on the battlefield could be sure of escaping it at their captor's hands. In the wars of succession, it remained indeed usual, until 1713, to offer appoint ments to the supporters of the defeated claimants. During the war of 1658?9, for example, neither Aurangzeb nor Dara Shukoh executed any noble. It was only the princes of royal blood whose lives remained insecure, ever since Shah Jahan in 1628 established the practice of executing possible rivals. It is this approach to the nobility, in which loyalty to the throne was assumed from every one, that was perhaps a major factor that enabled the Mughals to avoid a crisis in their relations with the nobles after the aristocratic rebellion of 1580. This approach had a corollary to it.While the Mughal emperor undertook no obligation to maintain an hereditary nobility, and in theory could appoint any one to any mansab, in actual fact recruitment to the nobility was confined to in spite of their racial elements and indigenous clans which, diverse backgrounds, were bound to the Mughal dynasty in grateful obedience. If under the different emperors, one is one collects data about the mansab-holdeis the surprised at the broadly unvarying nature of the proportions shared by certain foreign
various elements.

In the following table I give the composition of (a) the 98 mansabdars alive in 1595,and enjoying the mansab of 500 and above;(6) the 100 highest mansabdars in 1656; (d) the 202 in service in 1620; (c) the 100 highest mansabdars and above of mansabs to the mansabdars 2,000/1,500 appointed/promoted same ranks of the mansabdars 277 and serving the (e) period 1658-78; during during 1679-1707.26 It will be seen from this table that the main disturbance in the proportionate was caused by the strength of the various elements in the Mughal nobility entrance of the Marathas and other Dakhinis (the real strength of the latter is concealed in the break-up of the table we have given), who appear in increasing numbers from 1656 onwards. This intrusion is, of course, explained by the

TOWARDS AN INTERPRETATIONOF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE

45

_g_
(a) 1595 (6)1620 (c) 1656 (d) 1658-1678 (e) 1679-1707

*_i?_5i_^!i.?_f_!___!!_?_!L
4 14 4 11 10 3 26 14 13% 7% 35 34 12.5% 12% 21 1 98 21 21 1 100 27 13.5% 28 10% 0 1 5 14 202 7% 47277 17% 0 2 1% 8 3% 100

2 23 33 8 33 22 33 22 5 15 67 37 18.5% 33.5% 7.5% 42 65 18 15.5% 24% 6.6%

increasing involvement of the Mughal Empire in the Deccan, especially during the reign of Aurangzeb (1659-1707). Thus we see two opposites reconciled successfully in Mughal polity, namely the absolute despotic power of the emperor, bolstered by immense centralization and a theory of semi-divine sovereignty; and a structure heavily systematized with such conventions governing the relations between the king and his nobles as to deserve even the appellation of "constitution", with a small if not a capital "c". We have seen, further, that in the formation of this policy both the develop ment of institutions, already in existence under the previous regimes, and a deliberate policy on the part of the Mughal emperors, had distinct roles to play. These two causal factors did not have a directly "modern" origin, even taking that imprecise term in the widest of its possible senses. And yet it is possible that some of the changes that took place at the dawn of the modern era did exercise certain influences on the last-stage, but crucial, institutions that we have just considered, and on the development of medieval ideas and intellectual atmosphere in which what was new in the Mughal imperial polity was formulated. I would begin by taking up a small point: the system of coinage. The Mughal
system of coinage was tri-metallic, with coins uttered in three metals, gold, silver,

and copper, with the highest degree of purity achieved anywhere in the world. Such coinage too had its predecessor in the sultanate coinage of the 14th cen tury. But during the 15th century coinage had been heavily debased, the main coin being a copper tanka with a progressively declining silver alloy. Sher Shah sought to eliminate the debased coinage, and he minted the first rupee, a coin of 178 grains of practically pure silver. By the end of the 16th century the attempt that had continued under the later Surs and yet more vigorously under Akbar, succeeded in making the rupee the basic unit of currency actually in use.27 It is useless to dilate upon the importance of this achievement for successful function ing of commerce and credit, and the importance of the latter, in turn, for the functioning of a highly centralized administration. Yet it is not to be forgotten that the coming of the rupee was linked to the Spanish discovery of the New

46 World,

TOWARDS AN INTERPRETATIONOF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE because

that led to a heavy influx of silver, plundered and minted in the into the "Old World", thereby ending the silver continents, newly famine that had prevailed there since the 14th century. Thus what would have been otherwise exceptionally difficult if not impossible - namely, the institution of a pure silver currency, previously limited by conditions of very high silver ? became prices possible as an economic by-product of the Age of Discovery. discovered There

is also the role of the artillery to be considered. It is true that the army, like the Safavid and Uzbek, and even the Ottoman army, was mainly a cavalry force. It was characteristic that the mansab indicating the size of military contingent its possessor was obliged to maintain, was styled suwar or Mughal But it would be wrong to think that artillery had no more than a to play in the Mughal army, especially when we remember that we role marginal to not be thinking of cannon only, but also, and even particularly, of ought muskets. After all, if in 1647 there were 200,000 horsemen under the imperial banner, there were also no less than 40,000 infantry-men, consisting of "match "horseman".
lock men, gunners, cannoneers and rocketeers".28

It is quite likely that the increasing use of artillery during the hundred years following the battle of Panipat, in 1526, gave the Mughal army a decisive weapon against the traditional chiefs with their old-type cavalry retainers (of whom the
Rajputs were a characteristic illustration). Moreover, artillery gave to the towns,

a new basis for political where alone guns and muskets could be manufactured, In so far as the Mughal ruling and military domination over the countryside. class was mainly urban in character,29 itmust certainly have gained as a result of the new military importance of towns. We can thus at least identify two new sources of strength and stability that ? the silver influx, a com "modern" developments gave to the Mughal polity and the artillery, an early product of modem of the Price Revolution, in Europe were It moreover, is, possible that the developments technology. but ideas too, indirectly powerfully. influencing Information about the Europeans was available to Akbar and his contempor aries; and this was not confined to knowledge about the Jesuits and Christianity. Abu '1-Fazlwas aware that the Europeans had discovered the Americas, which he ponent 'alam-i nau,30 the New World. The accounts of the time are replete with it being mentioned references to the technological ingenuity of the Firangis, with pride if craftsmen at any place could manufacture articles that might com As is well known, by the 17th cen pare with those of European manufacturers. tury European physicians and surgeons had established a reputation for Western science; and, in a notable encounter of the two cultures, Bernier explained the called theory of the circulation of blood to Danishmand Khan.31 Such information, showing the lead that Europe was attaining in several branches of human activity, could not but engender questioning about the finality of traditional knowledge. This question took several forms. On one side was the

TOWARDS AN INTERPRETATIONOF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE

47

rational approach of Abu 1-Fazl, who would point out that zinc, as a separate metal (a recent discovery in Asia), was not known to the ancients,32 or would say that al-Ghazatl spoke nonsense when he condemned sciences that were not based upon the Qur'an.33 Then there was Dara Shukoh and men of manifestly his stamp, who rejected the traditional sciences, but also rejected rationality, and sought to establish an obscurantist spiritual dogma on the foundations of Com parative Religion.34 Further to the "right" still, there were men like Mullah Nasir of Burhanpur who thought that no particular sanctity attached to the classical Islamic jurists, and what they said could be challenged by men of equal or greater learning, like himself.35 Even Shaykh Ahmad SirhindT was thought by his critics to be tarnished with similar thoughts of his own superiority over the earlier
interpreters.36

In the previous (16th) century, the MahdavT Movement had attained consider able success; and it was certainly a consciously "revisionist" doctrine. All these were symptoms of a cleft in the hitherto solid structure of faith in the traditional cultural heritage of Islam. Itwas this void that was unconsciously emperor as a spiritual as a great new polity, of the ruling class). If ideological role of the theory of sovereignty, and of the specific role of Mughal polity, arose because of the undermining of the traditional ideological structure from tremors originating from the remote and largely unidentified developments of the early modern world; but, in its turn, the theory cemented and strengthened the traditional culture and made the Mughal Empire its upholder and protector. The suggestion that I should like to make is, then, that we should not treat the Mughal Empire as simply the last in the line of succession of the traditional Indian empires. It is true that its structure and institutions had deep indigenous roots. Its success also owed not a little to the genius of one man, Akbar. But the circumstances and atmosphere in which it was created were shaped by certain other factors as well, that had much to do with the very events that played an sought to be filled by the special position of the Mughal guide, and the self-conscious view of the Mughal Empire essentially just and humane (to the individual members this hypothesis is accepted, then we can perhaps see a dual Mughal Empire. On the one hand, the need of an official important part in the origin and development of modern culture in Europe. A certain intellectual ferment was in the air in India also, stirred in unseen ways by the advance of Europe; and this too contributed to the acceptance of a new ideological basis offered for the Mughal Empire. I am not suggesting that these factors converted the Mughal Empire into a modem state. If it had some rudiments of an unwritten constitution, it did not are of a for the and functions the itself hallmarks claim that yet legislative power state. It was essentially the "perfection" of a medieval polity, made modern possible by certain early modern developments. Though this gave it the stability and power denied to its predecessors, it still did not resolve the new contradiction

48 inherent
conditions.

TOWARDS AN INTERPRETATIONOF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE in the existence of a medieval polity in a world advancing to modern

As I see it, this contradiction expressed itself mainly in the contrast between the sense of unity infused in the imperial ruling class, in spite of its heterogeneity, and the absence of the consciousness of such unity among the mass of the imperial subjects. In other words, the subcontinent of India had a centralized state without any developing sense of nationhood. It is true that quasi-modern
"Hindustan", a word so often used, was more than a simple geographical

expression. But if it was so, this was not because of any new popular conscious ness, but because of its geographical correspondence with the area in which Hindu mythology had been enacted and places of pilgrimage lay scattered. This was not sufficient to overcome divisions of caste and community. It was, perhaps, for this reason that the Mughal Empire proved so vulnerable to the challenges from the Marathas, Jats, Sikhs, and Afghans, who represented not its conventional political opponents, but forces of a new kind, involving the entry of peasant-soldiers. This is not the place to discuss how far these forces were the product of the "agrarian crisis" of the Mughal Empire. What for my present purpose is more significant is that while no serious division occurred the Mughal ruling class, in the face of these challenges it still proved within them and failed to invoke any popular support in its incapable of meeting as It seemed if the people at large were indifferent to whether they struggle. were under an imperial or a regional regime. even speculation. But my whole purpose all this is hypothesis, Admittedly, here is simply to suggest a sphere in which speculation may usefully be pursued, in that it may lead to our attaching fresh significance to facts hitherto not noticed, or hardly noticed at all. Then, one day, perhaps, we may really assign to the Mughal Empire its true place in history.

NOTES
is a revised version address presented to the Indian History of my presidential on Medieval India. 1972, Section Congress, Session, Muzaffarpur 2 E. B. Havell,/! rule in India, London, n.d., 520-1. history of Aryan 3 V. V. Barthold, tr. G. K. Nariman, in Posthumous works "Iran", of G. K. Nariman, ed. S. H. Jhabvala, Bombay, 1935,142-3. 4 a kingdom; he had to to conquer "It will thus be seen that Babur had not merely to be no sultan, hampered create a theory of kingship. He was determined by all limitations even his highest down but a padshdh, which had beset the Lodi dynasty; upon looking eminence the divine right of Timur's blood had placed from the towering upon which {An empire builder of the sixteenth century, London, 1918,161). that were "The Chaghatai Babar came to India with ideas (of Sovereignty) conqueror not quite similar to those of either the early Turkish rulers of Delhi or the Afghans" {Some aspects of Muslim administration, Allahabad, 1936,105, etseq.). 6 India: A in Medieval "The Turko-Mongol theory of kingship", Iqtidar Alam Khan, amirs him" 5 miscellany, li, 1972, 8-18. 1 This

TOWARDS AN INTERPRETATIONOF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE


7 Iqtidar 60. such 19a). 9 8 uSher stability Husain Shah Siddiqi, Some not that aspects of Afghan despotism in India, Aligarh, 1971,

49
1-

Afghan was to the structure

a king (malik) but an angel (malak). In six years he gave the foundations still survive" f. (B.M. MS Add. 16859,

in the Indian chronicles. But it is the title Dawar This curious fact is not mentioned old serial No. 176, New assumes of 1627 to Raja Jai Singh (Bikaner, in his farmdn 'alam ara-i 'Abbasi, Tehran ed., A.H. 1314, 750. S.021). This is corroborated by the Tarikh-i 10 Delhi Session, A. J. Qaisar, Proceedings 1961, 155-7. Congress, of the Indian History 11 28. ed. C. Scheffer, Paris, 1891-3, Siyasatnama, 12 I 707, London, cf. Irfan Habib, Argarian India, 15561963, 256 ff. system of Mughal 13 state service", JRAS, in the Mughal "Rank cf. W. H. Moreland, (Mansab) 1936, 641 Con system, 1595-1637", 65; Irfan Habib, "The Mansab Proceedings of the Indian History gress, Patiala Session, 1968, 221 ff. 14 "The mahzar of Akbar's cf. S. Nurul Hasan, XVI, reign", Journal of U.P. Hist. Soc, 1968, 126. 15 cf. Iqtidar Alam Khan in JRAS, 1968, 34-5. 16 3 A'in-iakbari, 17 see Kaviraj Shyamaldas, Vir Vinod, For the text of the nishan, note. 11,419-20 18 Dabistan-i ed. Nazar Ashraf, Calcutta, mazdhib, 1809, 432. 19 See my article, An interpret "Foundations of Akbar's of the nobility. organization Bakhsh India Quarterly, ation". Medieval III, Nos. 3 and 4, 1958, 80-7. 20 ed. Usha, 515. 'IsamI, Futuh al-saldtin, 21 cf. Irfan Habib, of landed property in pre-British "Social distribution India", Enquiry^ old series No. 12, 54-6. 22 Dr. Ahsan Raza Khan in his unpublished thesis on the chiefs under Akbar has collected data about the chiefs who were granted mansabs under Akbar. interesting (high zamindars) 23 I, 139-40. Lahori, Badshahnama, 24 Tehran ed., A.H. 1214. 25 e.g. in his 17th regnal year. 26 These data are based (a) on the A'in-i akbari's list of mansabdars; (b) on Irfan Habib's of mansabdars list (unpublished) under based on the Tuzuk-i Jahdngiri, Jahanglr, mainly and (c) on Waris., Badshahnama, in 1656. The racial Ethe, 329, for the list of mansabdars has been established in the biographical information by detailed composition checking with as well as the Zakhirat the chronicles al-khawanin and the Ma'asiral-'umara'. (e.g. Lahori) of Aurangzeb's (d) and (e) are based on the list of mansabdars reign given in my book, The under Aurangzeb, 1966. Mughal London, nobility 27 and metrology The Coinage cf. H. N. Wright, of the Sultans Delhi, 1936, of Delhi, Irfan Habib,IESHR, IV, 1967,217-9. 260-1; 28 Lahori, Badshahnama, II, 715. 29 See my Mughal under Aurangzeb, 154 ff. nobility 30 A 'in-i akbari, III, 22. 31 Bernier, Travels in the Mogul Bombay, 1934, 324, 339. Empire, 32 I, 24. A'in-iakbari, 33 Muhammad Hashim Kishml, Zubdat Mahmud A.H. 1302, Press, Lucknow, al-Maqdmdt, 131. cf. Qanungo,/)flrfl , 78 ff. 1935Shukoh, Calcutta, 35 'Abd al-Salam, Muhammad Baqa,Afi><7/ al-'dlam, MS Aligarh; 36 S. A. Rizvi, Muslim in northern revivalist movements India turies, Agra, 1965, 268-70. 34

III. Pairaish 84/314, in the 16th and 17th cen